(06-29) 17:15 PDT Albuquerque, N.M. (AP) --
Well water near a Superfund site in western New Mexico's uranium belt poses no apparent health risk despite an earlier report that called the site of Homestake Mining Co.'s former mill a hazard, federal officials said.
The agency, however, found concentrations of uranium above natural levels in a few wells that are not used for drinking water. It recommended that those wells not be used and that residents have their well water tested before using it for household purposes.
Agency spokeswoman Pam Watson said Monday that officials revised the draft version from May 2008 based on information gathered during a public comment period. She was unable to provide specifics.
The New Mexico Environment Department has been warning residents in the area that their wells may contain contaminants from naturally occurring ore deposits and from previous uranium mining operations.
"We continue to believe that a more comprehensive and detailed study of potential health impacts from past uranium mining and milling in the area is warranted," state Environment Secretary Ron Curry said Monday.
The San Mateo Creek basin, which spans parts of Cibola and McKinley counties, is dotted with old uranium mines, milling sites and piles of tailings, including two piles that cover about 240 acres at the Homestake site. The state has started a long-term study to better understand the basin's watershed and to determine the extent of groundwater contamination.
The state also has an agreement with Homestake Mining Co. of California to connect more than a dozen homes to Milan's municipal water system to ensure that residents have a safe drinking water source.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated the Homestake mill as a Superfund site in 1983 and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has required remediation of groundwater contamination there since the 1970s. Under the 1980 Superfund law, the federal agency has the authority to compel responsible parties to clean up the nation's most contaminated sites or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanups.
Residents close to the Homestake site first notified the state Environment Department of well water problems at a public meeting in August 2005. The department and Homestake agreed to start sampling well water in response to the concerns.
According to the federal report, remediation efforts have helped to capture some of the contamination from the mill. Concentrations of uranium, selenium and molybdenum recorded from the 1970s through the 1990s were sometimes as much as 100 times greater than samples taken in the past three years.
Cleanup at the Homestake site is expected to last until 2015, but the report said Homestake is required only to reach federally approved background contaminant concentration standards, not drinking water standards.http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/06/29/state/n161200D19.DTL